Aircraft carriers are the among the biggest and most impressive military-related craft in the world. They are also some of the most distinctive engines of modern warfare – but just how many planes can a modern aircraft carrier hold?
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How Many Planes Does an Aircraft Carrier Hold?
The short answer to that question is that top-tier aircraft carriers can typically hold aircraft numbering in the seventies. The longer answer is that this will vary depending on the nature of the aircraft carrier, its overall size, and other operational variables.
- USS Gerald R. Ford – United States – 75 aircraft
- HMS Queen Elizabeth – Great Britain – 72 aircraft
- Admiral Kuznetsov – Russia – 50 aircraft
- Liaoning – China – 50 aircraft
- Charles de Gaulle – France – 40 aircraft
- INS Vikramaditya – India – 30 aircraft
- Chakri Naruebet – Thailand – 10 aircraft
The USS Gerald R. Ford
To begin with, it may be helpful to get an idea of the dimensions of the aircraft carriers we are dealing with, and that means first turning to the biggest producer of aircraft carriers, the United States.
The United States is unquestionably the single-most powerful and expensive military on Earth. The United States spent $648.8 billion on defense spending in 2018.
For context, that is more than the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany) combined.
How much does an aircraft carrier cost?
While how much of that money gets spent on various defense projects is an extremely complex topic, the top of the line USS Gerald R. Ford, commissioned in 2017, cost $13 billion. It measures 1,092 feet, is nearly 250 feet tall, and features 25 decks.
Another similarly-sized Ford-class aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, is under construction and is set to be commissioned in 2020.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth
For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at one of the Ford-class’s biggest contemporaries, and one of the great naval vessels in the world, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The pride of the Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest craft to ever constructed for its fleet in its long history. It measures 932 feet, thus being smaller than the USS Gerald R. Ford.
However, that is still large enough to rank it as the fourth-largest aircraft carrier in the world in terms of overall length behind the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Liaoning from China and the Admiral Kuznetsov in Russia, both of which measure 985 feet.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth equals those Russian and Chinese aircraft carriers in terms of overall tonnage, displacing 65 tons. The USS Gerald R. Ford, meanwhile, displaces over 100,000 tons.
Nimitz-Class Aircraft Carriers
In order to get at the heart of our question regarding aircraft carrier capacity, let’s continue that comparison and look more closely at the biggest aircraft carriers from around the world.
For decades, the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers turned out by the United States have ranked as the biggest in the world. Like the new USS Gerald R. Ford, these aircraft carriers are able to displace more than 100,000 tons and measure longer than 1,000 feet.
In order to power such massive craft, twin nuclear reactors are required, which give the ships practically unlimited range and allow them to reach speeds that can exceed 30 knots.
How Many Planes Can A Nimitz-Class Carrier Hold?
Now to the question we’ve been building towards – How many planes can an aircraft carrier hold? Among the aircraft a typical Nimitz-class aircraft carrier carriers are the following:
- Up to 24 F/A-18C Hornets
- Up to 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets
- Four or five E/A-18G Growler-style aircraft
- As many as four E-2D Hawkeye-style airborne early warning aircraft
- As many as two C-2 Greyhound transport aircraft
- As many as six Seahawk helicopters
What Is The Largest Aircraft Carrier in the World?
The USS Gerald R. Ford can carry even more aircraft—as many as 75 to 80 depending on their size and configuration, making it the aircraft carrier with the largest capacity in the world.
Comparing Aircraft Carriers Around The World
The HMS Queen Elizabeth continues to rank highly here as one of the top rivals of the USS Gerald R. Ford. She can carry as many as 72 aircraft depending on size and configuration, and can reach top speeds of 25 knots.
Just as the Nimitz-class was the standard by which American aircraft carriers were measured, the Queen Elizabeth-class has “ruled the waves” for the Royal Navy for decades, and will continue to do so with the HMS Prince of Wales, which as of 2019 was undergoing trials.
The Admiral Kuznetsov and Liaoning can each carry around 50 aircraft. While both of these countries rank among the world’s superpowers, these are the only aircraft carriers in operation for each nation.
The Charles de Gaulle of France is the largest aircraft carrier in Western Europe. What’s more, besides the United States’ Nimitz-class ships, it is the only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in service.
It measures 858 feet, can displace 42 tons, and can carry up to 40 aircraft depending on their size and configuration.
India’s sole aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, is a modified version of a Kiev-class carrier which India bought from Russia. While it is slightly longer than the Charles de Gaulle at 928 feet, it has the shortest flight deck of any craft listed here (284 feet) and can “only” carry 30 aircraft.
The world’s smallest aircraft carrier in service belongs to Thailand. The Chakri Naruebet measures 597 feet, displaces 11,400 tons, and can carry 10 aircraft.